how-to-write-a-query-letterThis post was first published on

Do you want to get a publisher to pick up your book? First, you likely need an agent. To get an agent, you’re going to have to write a query letter. I recently sat in on a PNWA presentation by Marilyn Allen, a respected agent and remarkably engaging person. Here’s what I learned from Marilyn on how to write a query letter that will have agents begging for more.

First impressions matter. The three most important things to include in your query letter are the hook, the book, and the cook.

  • The hook: Why would someone drive across to the city to buy this? Grab attention. Make the agent want to read more. This can be what you do for a living, an award, a creative line, or a scientific fact.
  • The book: Include a couple of lines about your book. Don’t write out your whole synopsis, just enough to get the agent interested. Show your passion and energy. If your book is fiction, write the setup, conflict, and resolution.
  • The cook: Tell them why you are the perfect person to write this book. What are your qualifications? What do you do for a living? Degrees? List the three to four most important things on your author platform. Bullet points work well here.

Double check for dumb mistakes. We are all overwhelmed with emails and submissions. You need to stand out and not give one reason for dismissal. As soon as an agent sees typos, attachments, or mistakes with her name, she moves on. Be smart and sharp.

Tell us about your platform. How will you help your publisher announce your book? Speeches? Organizations? Clubs? Start your own newsletter? Can you have 40,000 people on your newsletter?

Describe the audience. What is the age range? Gender? What kind of person would buy your book?

Provide smart comparisons. My book is like [INSERT SIMILAR, WELL-KNOWN BOOK NAME HERE]. Be careful here. Don’t be too ambitious or obscure.

Include genre and categories. Where does your book fit? Where will it be shelved? Have focus. Publishers want one proper home for your book. Understand the competition.

It’s a good idea to have your query letter reviewed before you send it out. Get a writerly friend (or five) to read it over and look for any mistakes you missed. Consider hiring a professional to critique your query and help you bring out the most compelling, salable aspects of your book.